How to Balance Intrinsic & Extrinsic Motivation [+ Use it to Your Advantage]

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are two opposing theories of motivation. Intrinsic motivation encourages people to achieve goals because they are personally rewarding. Extrinsic motivation encourages you to engage in a behavior or activity because of an external reward or punishment. However, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can be used together in order to achieve an optimal balance of motivating factors.

In this article, we discuss the similarities and differences between intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation, including key examples as well as factors and rewards related to these two types of motivation. By the end, you should firmly understand how to balance these two motivational types and use them both to your advantage.

The Difference Between Intrinsic & Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is what we consider to be an “altruistic motivator.” Intrinsic motivation occurs when we perform an action or achieve a goal because it is internally rewarding. In effect, if you are intrinsically motivated, you engage in activities for their own sake, rather than for an external reward. Alternatively, extrinsic motivation comes about when we perform an action or achieve a goal because we want to earn a reward (like money or a promotion) or avoid a punishment (like getting fired).

Essentially, the main difference between the two types of motivation is that extrinsic motivation comes from outside forces or drivers, while intrinsic motivation comes from within yourself – i.e., self-motivation. This makes them seem diametrically opposed, although this isn’t true. In fact, if you learn how to balance the two together, you can become both intrinsically and extrinsically motivated, supercharging your life in the direction of your goals and desires.

It should be noted, however, that too much of one or the other might actually be a bad thing. For example, studies show that if you try to motivate yourself extrinsically for something in which you already have intrinsic motivation, you might actually decrease your overall self-motivation, relying on external factors to get you up in the morning. This is known as the “overjustification effect.”

Conversely, opposing studies argue that it depends on the type of extrinsic and intrinsic motivator. For example, verbal praise has been shown to increase intrinsic motivation, while the incentive of more money might actually decrease internal motivation.

What this shows is that if you balance the two, it can lead to high levels of motivation. For example, you can actually increase your internal motivation for something you’re not interested in if you first give yourself an external reward for achieving it. Further, you can even motivate yourself and others to learn new skills via extrinsic motivation. Then, over time, you might just grow your intrinsic motivation surrounding that skill, thanks to the initial external rewards. We discuss how to balance these two motivational types in the section below.

Examples of Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is inherently self-rewarding. When you use intrinsic motivation to achieve a goal, what you’re motivated by is the achievement of the goal itself, for no one else other than yourself (unless the goal is to act selflessly, of course).

For example, if you want to go to the gym to reduce your stress levels and feel healthier, that is an act of intrinsic motivation. If you want a promotion, not because of the salary but because you’re excited to learn new things and take on more responsibility, that too is intrinsic motivation.

However, intrinsic motivation can also motivate you to act altruistically. Using another example, if you volunteer at a soup kitchen because it makes you feel good, then that’s intrinsic motivation, too, even though it’s affecting people outside of yourself.

Examples of Extrinsic Motivation

On the other hand, extrinsic motivation is also rewarding, but because of what others reward you with, rather than what you reward yourself with. For example, if you want to go to the gym not because it makes you feel healthier but because you think more girls/guys will date you, then you’re extrinsically motivated. Further, if you want a promotion, not because the new job is personally rewarding but because it comes with a higher salary and more perks (and maybe because you’re facing social pressure), then you are also extrinsically motivated.

However, while extrinsic motivation might sound shallow, this isn’t always the case. For example, why can’t you want a promotion because you’ll learn a ton and gain new internally-rewarding experiences, and also because it comes with a higher salary? The answer is that you can. Further, remember from above that you can actually generate intrinsic motivation by first rewarding yourself externally, which we will discuss in greater detail below.

Factors That Affect Intrinsic & Extrinsic Motivation

While there are only two broad factors that affect intrinsic and extrinsic motivation (internal vs. external rewards), there are many factors within these umbrellas that can motivate you, either internally or externally. Let’s now take a look at the key factors that can increase either your intrinsic or extrinsic motivation.

Factors That Affect Intrinsic Motivation

Here are the key factors that can both increase or decrease your intrinsic motivation:

  • New knowledge or skills – People who are internally motivated are often motivated by the acquisition of new skills or learning experiences. A thirst for knowledge, for example, is a classic internal motivator.
  • Engagement and accomplishment – While this might seem like an external motivator, people are typically motivated by their own accomplishments (for the sake of accomplishment) and the active participation (and agency) in their life trajectory and career path.
  • Praise or positive feedback – Studies show that people are more likely to self-motivate if they either have positive internal self-talk or are praised by people they respect. If you want to increase your intrinsic motivation, make sure you have a positive view of yourself as well as surround yourself with positive people.
  • Sincerity – Don’t lie to yourself. You have a better chance of being intrinsically motivated if you’re honest regarding how you feel when pursuing a goal or desire. If you feel insincere, you might quickly become demotivated. At the same time, other people can increase your intrinsic motivation by being sincere with their feedback. If you want to increase your internal motivation, find people who give you honest feedback that helps you in the pursuit of your goal.
  • Gut instinct – Ultimately, if you want to motivate yourself intrinsically, go with your gut, and do what feels good. If what you’re doing feels right, then don’t argue with yourself – keep doing it.

Factors That Affect Extrinsic Motivation

Here are the key factors that can either increase or decrease your extrinsic motivation:

  • Raises, commissions, and bonuses – The classic extrinsic motivator is money or wealth. How many of us would actually want to be musicians, actors, or CEOs if there wasn’t the opportunity for riches? The answer is not many. If you want to motivate yourself or those around you externally, try to achieve higher earnings.
  • Completion or contingent rewards – These represent rewards given to you for the completion of a task or based on your historical performance. Raises, commissions, and bonuses technically fall under this umbrella, but completion or contingent rewards can be anything from money to more vacation days.
  • Unexpected rewards – This is self-explanatory, but represents rewards that you did not expect to receive. For example, if your boss gives you a raise out of the blue, it might motivate you to work hard in the hopes another unexpected reward is on the horizon
  • Fame or exposure – If you expect that a goal or course of action results in fame or increased exposure to people you respect or what to know better, then your extrinsic motivation will be higher.
  • Sex and intimacy A classic motivator, our desire for sex and intimacy is often thought of as one of our highest motivating factors. A lot of our actions stem from our belief that we may be rewarded by the opposite sex (or the same sex, if that’s your thing).

When to Use Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

The key is to use both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, balancing the two against each other. The hard part is to find the right balance, rather than skewing one way or the other. However, this balance is completely dependent on not only the individual but also the goal they’re trying to achieve.

Let’s face it, at first blush, the best motivating factor is intrinsic motivation. If you can be completely self-motivated, no one will be able to strip you of your desire to succeed in the arena of your choice. People who are self-motivated are typically happier with the achievement of their goals and desires than people who are strictly motivated by external factors. For example, if you get true enjoyment out of your current job, you might just be happier than the person striving to become CEO just because of the stock options that come along with it.

However, almost no one is solely motivated by either internal or external rewards. Rather, we have some combination of both currently motivating us, which isn’t only ok, but is actually the best strategy available. Finding the right balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation maximizes your overall motivational force. For example, if you actively want a promotion because the job will bring on new challenges and learning experiences, and you also want it because there’s a pay raise, then you’re maximizing your motivation.

In this way, it’s important to pursue things that are both internally and externally rewarding. However, you can also use extrinsic motivation to increase your intrinsic motivation. Using another example, perhaps you hate working out but you do it anyway because you want to look more attractive to the opposite sex. While this is an external motivator, throughout the course of working out, you just might find that it’s enjoyable and that you like the rush of endorphins, and become intrinsically motivated to exercise. Think of it as a carrot and stick, except the carrot makes you enjoy the process of chasing it.

Remember, however, that too much extrinsic motivation can actually squash your internal motivation. If you’ve been following, all else equal, internal motivation is better than external rewards. So, as you work on balancing your intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and as you use extrinsic motivation as a way to increase your intrinsic motivation, don’t go overboard. A pay raise is nice, but truly enjoying your work is the ultimate.

Other Types of Motivation

While both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are considered two of the main types of motivation, there are many others that motivate people. In fact, you might be motivated by one or more of the types of motivation, which include:

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is the Definition of Intrinsic Motivation?

Intrinsic motivation refers to the types of behavior cultivated through internal rewards. People who are motivated intrinsically, for example, engage in an action or set out to achieve a goal because it is internally satisfying. Typically, the action or achievement of the goal itself is motivating, rather than the reward at the end.

What Are Some Types of Intrinsic Motivation?

The main “type” of intrinsic motivation is a feeling of accomplishment for having completed a task or achieved a goal. All the other types of intrinsic motivators are somewhat linked to this feeling of self-satisfaction. Other types include a desire to leave a positive legacy, the pursuit of knowledge and self-growth, and more.

What is the Definition of Extrinsic Motivation?

Extrinsic motivation refers to the type of motivation experienced through external rewards, such as a pay raise or job promotion. While intrinsic motivation is all about self-motivation, extrinsic motivation relies on other people to incentivize you to in order to achieve a goal or engage in a task or habit.

What Are Some Types of Extrinisic Motivation?

The two broad types of extrinsic motivation are the external rewards given to you by others, as well as the external rewards that you give yourself. For example, getting a pay raise would be an external reward given by a third-party, while allowing yourself a “cheat day” after six days of healthy eating would be an example of an external reward you give yourself.

Conclusion

Overall, a combination of both internal and external motivation is the best way to motivate yourself and also be motivated by factors outside of yourself. In fact, you can become internally motivated by first rewarding yourself externally, and vice versa. The end result is that you’ll achieve both happiness as well as the goals you desire, increasing your overall probability of success.